Monday, January 30, 2006


We’re going to London in March to help my sister celebrate her 50th birthday! There was a point in my life when I wouldn’t have believed it possible for me to be away from England for more than ten years, but it’s true. England….the place of my soul, the place where I feel so at peace, the place I feel so connected to. How can it have been over ten years?

It started with a simple email from my sister. She receives the NWA weekly specials, and right now they have one of the “zone A-B-C” deals, where you can fly from anywhere in one zone, regardless of the city, to select European cities for an amazingly low price. In this case, the special for Zone A, which includes everything east of the Mississippi, to London for $144 each way….plus of course the dreaded taxes and other assorted fees, which take the total price up to about $388 roundtrip. Still, not a bad deal.

Terri said that she’d always wanted to see London; would we be interested in flying over to meet her? Of course you know Art was interested. And you can probably guess that my immediate reaction was “no, we can’t afford it.” So maybe he says “yes!” too quickly and maybe I say “no!” too quickly, but of course this led to some pouting, and eventually to some serious talk…..really serious.

Serious as in “When will the money crunch be over?” and “Did we make a mistake?” Serious as in “Do we need to think about admitting defeat and move back to the states?” And of course Art and I have VERY different views about our money situation.

He’s the dreamer, I’m the practical one. He’s the spender, I’m the saver. He’s the optimist, I’m the pessimist. I guess we balance each other out fairly well, and I will admit that Art has corrupted me a lot more than I’ve changed him. He seems to have the ability to convince me to do things that my better judgment tells me not to….remember the trip to Prague?

Yes, we knew that early retirement would mean sacrifices, but what we didn’t expect was the rapid and continual decline of the dollar. We knew we would be living on the edge, but after working two jobs for over thirty years, Art was ready. But did we jump too quickly?

I do have to take credit and say that if it hadn’t been for my fiscally conservative nature and careful money management, we wouldn’t have been anywhere near contemplating retirement at such early ages. Hell, I didn’t even really retire….I just quit! At least Art had two pensions to support us, as well as the nest eggs I had helped establish.

On Friday Art turned 59½…….meaning that he could now access his IRA money. We had been looking forward to this day because we planned to use some of this money to pay off our credit cards and to finish up the final few house projects, like having the roof cleaned and the gutters repaired, putting double–paned glass in the rest of windows, maybe buying a freezer. Nothing extravagant.

To divert for just a minute, I’ll take this opportunity to complain about the way our IRA is invested. When we left the Post Office we decided that in order to simplify things we’d move our TSP money over to an IRA at Fifth Third bank, along with the rest of our money. We met with a financial advisor who set us up in a mutual fund. Okay, fine.

EXCEPT…..we later found out that having this money in a mutual fund means that we have to pay annual fees, and apparently we could have just left this money in a “plain” IRA….with no fees. Once again, not knowing the questions to ask…..

Additionally, we’ve discovered that we can only withdraw 10% of the fund per year. If we want to take more money, we have to pay a FEE….a FEE to have our own money!!!! This is of course, in addition to the taxes we‘ll pay, but at least we knew about that in advance. I don’t know, maybe this is a rule for all IRA’s, but I suspect not. I suspect that this FEE applies only to a mutual fund so that the company gets to keep more of our money. Grrrrrrrrr

So anyway……we’re planning to withdraw the 10% for now and see how far that goes. But when I told Art that I didn’t think we could afford to go to London, he really got frustrated! His point was that he’s been waiting for the past 2½ years to be able to access this money, and now that the time was finally here, we STILL couldn’t afford to do much of anything! We’d both really been waiting for this day, hoping that it would give us the financial relief we’d been waiting for.

And yes, I can understand his frustration…but it seems to be easier for me to accept our financial limitations….after all, here we are in Italy! I was always the one who saved and saved, squirreling away $10 or $20 for my next vacation, never minding the things I was doing without, because I knew that the vacation would be worth it.

And then there was Art’s vacation philosophy….”I’ve worked two jobs all year long, I need it, I want it, I DESERVE it!” He’d charge everything and we’d pay it off after the vacation rather than before. And yes, as he likes to point out, every vacation was paid off in a timely manner…..mostly due to my diligence, but nevertheless, if it had been up to me, we’d have taken far fewer vacations.

So now here we are, retired, fighting the exchange rate and now fighting with each other! This is supposed to be when we’re having fun, traveling all over Italy and Europe, and so far we’ve been to Rome a few times, Florence a few times, and to Prague for a week. When will the fun begin?

We’ve both vowed that we’ll leave as little as possible for our kids to fight over. Neither of us understands the idea that it’s our job to provide for our kids once we’re gone! We made our way, they’ll make theirs. We plan to spend OUR money on us, so I guess there’s no time like the present to get started!

And so, we’re going to London to celebrate my sister’s birthday! We found a cheap airfare with EasyJet….€114 for both of us! That’s $138. Now all I have to do is figure out how we’ll get to the airport, then find us a cheap, clean and convenient place to stay….not an easy task in London, where the current rate of the pound actually makes the euro look good!

So why can’t I lighten up and get excited about going to London?! Why can’t I be happy that I’ll get to celebrate such an important birthday with my sister?! That I’ll be the one to introduce her to the city I love so much? That Art and I will finally be seeing more of Europe? That after ten looong years I’ll finally be returning to England?!

I’m really not a fuddy-duddy. I’m not some flighty free spirit, buy neither am I a rigid person with no sense of spontaneity. I’m just a person who likes to know that I’m spending what I have….not what I MIGHT have, not what I EXPECT to have, and not what Art SAYS we’ll have! He’s always Mr. “Don’t worry it’ll work out! It always does!”

Of course MY theory is that it USED to work out because we were both still working! We had the opportunity for overtime. We had those twice yearly “bonus” paydays. Occasionally Art would have a nice tip or a winning ticket at the track. But now…..well now we’re on a fixed income. Fixed, as in it stays the same, and if the exchange rate goes to hell, it can even decrease! Yikes!

But now we’re committed. We bought the tickets. We’re searching for a bed and breakfast. I’m trying to think about what my sister would enjoy doing and seeing. I’m trying to balance her need to shop with my need to show her all the wonderful sights. I’m trying to get excited….really I am. I just need to get over this guilt thing.

Maybe I should think of this trip as a way to enjoy my children’s inheritance instead of thinking of it as spending my own money! Maybe I should just try to let go of my anxiety and accept the fact that we ARE going! Maybe I should just say they hell with the money…’s always worked out before; it’ll work out this time too! Maybe I should just try to be happy that I’m going back to England! I’m working on it.


At 1/31/2006 02:07:00 AM , Blogger Judith in Umbria said...
There is another and I thought I had the address, but I don't. These are new concept hotels, sort of molded like airplane bathrooms but a bit bigger, if not much. If I do find the other one, which was reviewed somewhere by someone who stayed, I'll send it along. Cheaper than any B&B.

At 1/31/2006 03:02:00 AM , Blogger Judith in Umbria said...

Found it, but it won't be ready on time.
Currently only at the airports and the in town location opens in 2007. Still, worth book marking for the future? My kid loves England, too.
Guilt is useless and you only get one life, Barb.


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